5 June 2015

Muses, Geniuses and Their Interrelations

She was the model turned war photographer turned art groupie, he was perhaps the most prolific painter of the 20th century. Lee Miller and Picasso’s 36-year alliance has gifted us with literally thousands of photographs of the pair. Miller’s dip-toe into the world of modeling as a teen lead her into the role of muse, pupil and lover to Man Ray before teleporting to the other side of the camera. She was the only female photojournalist active in European combat during the Second World War. Miller almost crudely projectile vomited harrowing images of historic turmoil and despair, juxtaposed by photos of her bathing in Hitler’s bath; typifying her idiosyncratic approach. She shot fashion for Vogue, evidencing her sheer versatility and the contrastive nature of her work as well as her ocular narration of events.

Picasso was frequently photographed by Miller both at work and play. His mish-mash of clutter and works of genius in progress are seen dynamically arranged around his workshop as steady hands put the finishing touches to sculptural masterpieces. He, in turn completed six portraits of Miller, l’Arlesienne, one that previously hung in Miller and her husband Roland Penrose’s house now stands as an imperative asset of the exhibition. A few of the photographs show them at Picasso’s home playing dress-up and sporting geeky fake glasses and ghastly comedy noses. If anything, it showed him as a clown of sorts, commanding the center of attention and joking around as though we were being exclusively invited to peek at behind-the-scenes footage of the usually serious hombre.

The company that Miller and Picasso attracted came in the form of an exuberantly eccentric group: poet Paul Éluard, Surrealist painter Roland Penrose, Man Ray and his paramour Ady Fidelin, Max Ernst, and subject of Guernica, Dora Maar amongst others. This clique of gregarious characters embarked on fun and frivolous adventures together out on the Côte d’Azur, France. Photographs of them are informal, intimate and jocose, stripping down Picasso’s walls and capturing him relaxed in trusted company. Lee Miller took one of history’s most prominent images of Picasso, whose intense eye is fixed on the camera lens appearing to have her as the focal point of his infamously wandering and equally cutting gaze.

Antony Penrose, Miller’s son was asked if he thought it possible that a holiday romance had evolved between the pair to which he replied a firm: “Oh God yes. Definitely.” At the time, she was with Antony’s father, Roland Penrose. Miller married Penrose in 1947 and he is no stranger to Picasso as he became his biographer in the years that followed.“They all shared each other; they all exchanged partners fluidly and without jealousy, and had great fun in so doing,” Antony ensured us. 

The intertwining’s made were not purely sexual and such an approach is not to be shunned. Many in the group separated from one another and married a different friend, spending many a happy year together as a result of their inconsistent switching and swapping. This could be the very reason as to why the Surrealist entourages share and share alike. They get to know each other beyond their undeniably cool facades and through common knowledge and mutual interests; they find a suitable platform for *ahem* relations.

The creative brain is a ravenous monster of sorts, feeding off near-constant piquancy. There is an insubordinate desire lurking deep within which craves challenge and inspiration from a partner on the same wavelength. The Surrealists didn’t make the rookie mistakes of letting current partners or the fear of ruining friendships get in the way. It was a sure-fire way to finding happiness and it most definitely acted as a source of inspiration for their work, which makes it a win-win. So if you’re single and ready to mingle Surrealist-style, jet off to the French Riviera with a group of your closest and most cultivated friends for a week of sun, sex and savoir-faire.